- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Liberal groups supporting Democratic Sen. John Kerry for president have been accused of fraud and of sending felons into people’s homes in their efforts to register new voters in Missouri.

The massive drive — concentrated in the heavily Democratic city of St. Louis — has registered nearly 25,000 Missouri voters in an effort to take the battleground state from President Bush, who won it in 2000.

“They’re going to people’s doors, getting their Social Security numbers, birth dates and how many people live in the home,” said Woody Cozad, former state Republican Party chairman and board member of the Center for Ethics and the Free Market, a nonprofit group that has raised questions about the voter drive. “That, by itself, could lead to all sorts of problems.”

St. Louis election officials rejected for a variety of reasons more than a quarter of the voter-registration forms filed by America Coming Together (ACT) and other liberal groups committed to defeating Mr. Bush in November.

Another complaint is that ACT has hired felons, including sex offenders, burglars and those convicted of violent crimes, to go door to door collecting personal information about potential voters in not only Missouri, but also other battleground states such as Florida and Ohio.

“It is disturbing that the voter-mobilization arm of the Democratic Party is proudly hiring felons convicted of sex offenses, assault and burglary to go house to house and handle sensitive personal information,” said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

“Democratic voters should be leery of opening their doors to political operatives until the Democrats can assure them that a convicted felon won’t be on the other side.”

In the past year, the Missouri Secretary of State’s office has provided ACT with 106,656 voter-registration cards. During that time, ACT and other groups have turned in 34,683 cards to the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, of which 9,879 have been rejected for various reasons.

The majority were rejected as duplicating existing voter registrants, while others were rejected because the prospective voters were underage, had been convicted of felonies or couldn’t be verified.

“In short, by inundating election authorities who are under significant legal and staffing constraints with such large numbers of non-verified applicants, the activities of these groups threatens to undermine the legitimacy of Missouri’s electoral system,” says the report issued by the Center for Ethics.

Under particular scrutiny are 16,000 voter-registration forms requested by Missouri Department of Corrections employees helping in the voter drive, Mr. Cozad said.

Sara Howard, a spokeswoman for ACT’s Missouri operations, said the figures show that the group is getting good results.

“Getting a large number of duplicates is absolutely expected, because of the fact that the person at the door may not be aware they are registered, and there is a time lag in getting the voter-registration file updated,” Miss Howard said.

ACT’s national spokesman Mo Elleithee said the group thinks “it’s important to give people a second chance.”

“The fact that they are willing to do this work is a fairly serious indication that they want to become productive members of society,” he said, adding that his group stopped hiring violent felons in the spring. “We’re constantly looking internally to better our hiring practices, but the bottom line is we would never hire anyone who we felt was a threat to anyone else.”

Citing security concerns for the public and the felons, the Missouri Department of Corrections in April banished ACT from its pool of potential employers for parolees in its halfway houses in Kansas City and St. Louis, department spokesman John Fougere said.

“From a public-safety standpoint, we didn’t want offenders to be in a situation where they would be handling that information,” he said.

Officials also were concerned the door-to-door campaign would put felons at greater risk of false accusations, he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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